OZRIC TENTACLES The Hidden Step (Stretchy)
"The Hidden Step" is Ozric Tentacles' 16th studio album, and is apparently informed by guitarist Ed Wynne's lifelong obsession with Egyptology. Broken into seven long instrumentals, it makes perfect background listening - and I mean that as a complement, rather than suggesting it's some muso muzak. Guitars, keyboards, percussion and flutes tussle melodiously like some unholy alliance between The Moody Blues and Grateful Dead, dragged kicking and chanting into the 21st century by a carefully polished production. I must have listened to "The Hidden Step" over 20 times, and, whilst it's perfect ear candy to accompany some other activity - bashing out album reviews, for example - sliding seamlessly past, exuding a quiet hum of quality - I can't say I could hum a single riff from it. Nevertheless, if the Ozrics are your bag it's a must have, and if you're merely curious it should serve as an equally accommodating introduction as any of their 15 other long players.OZRIC TENTACLES Pyramidion (Stretchy)
Following swiftly on the heels of last year's studio work "The Hidden Step", "Pyramidion" is a mini-album mix of new material and live tracks recorded on the Sheffield leg of the "Hidden Step" tour. And, as if you have to ask, it's another impeccably played slice of space psychedelia and instrumental rumination, grounded by the odd dub-rumbling bassline. "Pyramidion" is also notable for the quality of its production, being one of very few CDs to coax grumbling slabs of bass out of my creaky ole speakers. And so what if it sounds virtually indistinguishable from every other Ozric Tentacles album I've clapped ears on? That the basic template has remained unchanged since I saw them relax an entire field of festival-goers to the reclining position at Reading in 1993 is surely a mark of their consistency and immunity to fad and fashion. I'm still unconvinced that anybody other than the most ardent fan needs more than one Ozric Tentacles album, but "Pyramidion" will serve just as well as any other.
OZRIC TENTACLES Live At The Pongmaster's Ball (Snapper Music)
This slipcased double CD documents almost two hours of the live Ozric Tentacles experience, distilled at the Shepherd's Bush Empire in March this year. As such, it sounds almost exactly as you might expect it to: all that distances these renditions from their immaculately constructed studio brethren is the slightly vaguer, foggier feel inherent in live performances, meaning you'll have to crank this album up a little further than most to appreciate it fully. Otherwise, it's the same Hawkwind-meets-Zappa white-hot instrumental dexterity and swirlingly-scripted psychedelia that the Ozrics have been putting their stamp on for the last 20 years, practically indistinguishable from every other Ozrics album you may or may not have heard. But why criticise them for their consistency? If you enjoy the band's music, slip it on and slide away. As a Tentacle comments at the close, "Thank you very much, you've been absolutely as we expected", and the feeling is mutual.